Author's Note: "We've switched DarkRiver's regular Muse with Folger's Crystals, let's see if he notices!" I bloody well do notice! Eroticus seems to be on vacation, so I'm stuck writing real stories. Sorry, I know this'll ruin my rep, but what can ya do? This one should be viewable by all audiences... any slashy themes you notice are just your own sick minds at work.
This is a D.C. fic about Young Justice. If you're reading that book, I think you'll get a kick out of this little story. If you're not... why the heck aren't you? It's only in ish 27 and it's written by the most awesome Peter David so what's your excuse? Seriously, I've tried to fit in a little exposition to help along those who don't know the kids, but you'll get more out of it if you read the book. (There, Mr. David, I've given you your props, can I start now?)
"...a return to family values. I am disturbed--and I think we all are disturbed--by how early childhood ends for our kids today. Sex, violence, death... these are burdens for the older generations to bear. It's time we put the children first and make certain they grow up healthy."
"Thank you, Governor Bush. Mr. Vice President?"
"Well, uh, Jim, I agree that kids are growing up too fast these days. I don't believe anyone can dispute the notion that America's children need to be protected. My plan, as I've said, gives America's schools priority. My opponent would rather give money to the rich then pay what is needed to make our schools great again."
"If I can reply to that--"
"No, Governor, I'm sorry, we have to move on to the next question. One of the topics very much in the news of late is that of young heroes, such as Young Justice. Legal experts contend that even superior-abled youths should not be allowed to assist authorities in solving crimes--that doing so is tantamount to drafting children into the army. Mr. Vice-President, will you support or oppose legislation limiting the activities of the so-called 'teen heroes'?"
"Well, that is a difficult question to answer. In a world where a teenager can lift a car, child-endangerment laws become challenged. Superman has come to the White House and addressed these concerns with the President and I. At this time, I believe organizations such as the Justice League have the situation under control. We live in extraordinary times and we need a President who recognizes that. We should take action, yes, but that action must be taken with caution. I have allocated in my plan a full ten percent more to researching meta-humans and their impact on society and the environment. I think it would be wrong of us to ignore all the good the young teams have done for us."
"Well, I certainly wouldn't want to minimize the contributions of organizations like the Teen Titans or Young Justice to the safety of our country, but I question the morality of letting our kids fight our battles for us. It is easy to shrug it off, to say to yourself 'they're more than human, so they can handle it,' but that is irresponsible. They are young people who need guidance and shelter just like every young person in America. The pressures of being a teenager are enormous, and when you add that to the burden of covert and dangerous operations, I think you wind up with a less-healthy person. As a country, I think we have let these kids down. I think we need to hold their parents to a certain standard. I know I certainly would not allow a child of mine to endanger their life, especially when we have fully qualified operatives like Superman and the Green Lantern who..."
"Great. This guy wants to screw us, and we can't even cast a vote to oppose him!" Kon-El ranted, throwing his hands in the air.
Robin stared at the screen in rapt attention. "This is what it's like to have parents, Kon," he said in a low voice. "You don't always have a say in your future."
"Are you *still* watching that?"
"Yes, Bart. Some of us actually pay attention to world events," Robin said patiently.
"I do too pay attention. They're both losers. What else do you need to know?"
Robin smiled faintly. Kon started pacing in agitation. Impulse's attention wandered and in a flash, he was gone.
Cassie leaned forward. "You think that Bush guy will win?"
Robin shook his head. "Not a chance in Hell."
"And here I thought Christmas was over."
Donald Fite looked over his coffee cup at his partner, instantly registering that if Ishido was actually happy then something momentous had to have taken place. It wasn't that Maad was a bad person, he was just very very serious. He really did need a vacation.
But something else had.
"I'm guessing this is more than just the chocolate doughnuts Sophie brought in this morning."
Ishido nodded, his eyes bright. "Though, those are good too. Even better then Krispie Kreme."
"I don't know that I'd go *that* far."
"Anyway," his partner went on as he settled himself into his chair. "Your new President just gave A.P.E.S. the green-light on Project: Containment. It seems Mr. Bush sees things in a more rational light then his predecessor."
He passed Fite a folder, and in doing so caused the long-awaited landslide of files and documents on his partner's desk. Donald scrambled to keep the delicate pile stable, but it slipped through his fingers like so much sand and crashed to the floor.
Maad looked down as his partner gathered the pile back together. "I told you it was time to clean things up."
"Yeah, you told me. And I told you there was a delicate system to the whole thing--a system you just ruined, by the way."
"Oh, don't blame this on me!"
"I don't have anyone else to blame it on," Fite told him and resumed his seat. He flipped through the new folder's contents. "This doesn't say anything about Containment."
"It amounts to the same thing."
"No, actually, this amounts to a whole lot more," Fite told him, now reading the orders very carefully.
Maad leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. His serious face grew dark with solemn thought as the goal he had yearned towards for years seemed in sight. They would finally see an end to the troublesome Young Justice and the return of the girl-creature to proper custody.
"Don't do that," Ben told him sharply.
Maad blinked and looked up. "Do what?"
"That finger-steepling thing. You look like a bad comic-book villain."
"It's my thoughtful pose."
Fite shook his head. "Well, get a new one. Now, where is that seek-and-capture plan..."
Maad watched him as he sorted through the random stacks of files, suppressing an amused smile with difficulty. "The plan will need to be modified."
"Why is that?" the pile of documents asked.
"Well, Arrowette is no longer an active member..."
"So? The orders mention her in specific. We still have to bring her in."
"And they have that new recruit..."
"The Empress? She's hardly going to matter."
Fite emerged with a dog-eared manila folder, challenging his partner to say anything. Ishido spread his hands in a placating gesture. "I am merely saying we need to factor in current variables."
His partner shrugged indifferently. "The basic premise of the plan remains solid. We may have to fine-tune it, but we accepted that at the staging level. We never intended to take them on as a team."
Maad grinned coldly. "No... no we did not..."
"You're doing it again."
"Sorry, old friend."
Liquor-store robbers were hardly worthy distractions for the Boy Wonder, but they were the best this sleepy town had to offer him. He had to stay in shape, after all, exiled as he was from Gotham. The team was not going to meet for another week or two, so he had to find his own amusement. To that end, he had ranged out past the borders of Bristol Commons and into this little town. Over the last few nights, he had rapidly come to the realization that this town had little more to offer than the last one.
The first thug fell from a devastating kick to the head. Of the other two, one decided to try his luck with running and the other let his pride get the best of him. He turned and faced off with Robin, raising meaty fists for a brawl.
Robin somersaulted over him, tossed a batarang and knocked the runner unconscious.
*click* Subject is in sight, over. *click*
*click* Roger that, the hunters are heading into the bushes. *click*
The last thief had size and he knew how to throw a punch, but he did not have much in the way of speed or stamina. He was rapidly wearing down by punching air, which was all that Robin left for him to swing at. In fact, had the Boy Wonder not been afraid this was the only action he would see tonight, the thug would likely have already been out cold.
Robin finally took pity on him and knocked him flat. He had not even broken a sweat. It was lamentable, really, since he would have to be heading back now. With his fussy new roommate, staying out past curfew was certain to get him in trouble.
A cold feeling stole over him and he slipped instinctively (when did it become instinct?) into the concealing shadows.
*click* Bring in the dogs. *click*
*click* Roger that. *click*
Something was terribly wrong, he was certain of it. Being in danger as regularly as he was, he had a knack for smelling it on the night air.
His stomach rumbled. Damn, he was hungry.
Men in dark clothes suddenly leaped from the rooftops and half-surrounded him. He barely had time to take in the tazers in their hands before he had to dive out of the way. Rattled, alarmed, it took him a few seconds to slip through them and gain the relative safety of the rooftop.
*What in blazes..?* he wondered.
*click* Target has moved into position. Call in the falcons, over. *click*
*click* Roger that. *click*
Robin skulked through the shadows, curious who these men were but not certain he wanted to find out just now. They should not even know he was here, but they did and they seemed prepared. He would have to talk to Alfred and probably Oracle.
A rush of air warned him and he dove to the cement rooftop. The trio of gliders past overhead, dropping a heavy net on him. Robin cut his way free and scrambled down to the street, seeking safety in the alleys. He had the sinking feeling now that he was being herded, but he did not know where or why so he was helpless for the moment.
*click* Hunters in position, over. *click*
*click* Roger that. Decoys in place, over. *click*
Robin skidded to a halt at the end of an alleyway, seeing the trap on at the last moment. A dozen rather competent-looking fellows were waiting for him, nets and tazers at the ready. In a brawl, with so little maneuvering room, he wouldn't last more than two minutes.
He held his breath and activated the visor in his mask and tossed down the smoke pellets. He could maneuver on sound and touch, but he doubted they could. It was time for a very hasty retreat followed by a serious bit of mystery-solving.
*click* Target has blinded himself. Take him, over. *click*
*click* Roger that. *click*
The blast took him straight off his feet. Stunned, unable to even breathe for a moment, he flailed uselessly at the dart that had punched through his suit and delivered its contents into his system. By the time he could move enough to get the anti-toxin at his belt, he was already falling into darkness.
*click* Bird is on the ground, over. *click*
*click* Roger that. Get the mask off, ID him, and place him in containment. Alpha team to base, mission complete. *click*
*click* Well done, alpha team. Base out. *click*
*WonderGirl, this is Robin, I need help. I've been captured by an unknown group with possible terrorist affiliations. If you can trace this signal, find the others and get me out.*
Cassie soared across New York as fast as she could manage. If Robin was in such bad shape that he called for help, she knew the situation was dire. She had left Kon a message to meet her at the source of the message, but she could not dare wait. Impulse, too, had been given a message, but who knew when he would get it.
It was just like A.P.E.S. to reuse their old headquarters. No one would ever suspect they'd set up shop back in Mount Rushmore; so, of course, they had. What their interest was in Robin, she could only guess, but she doubted it was benevolent. Considering their treatment of Secret (and where in the world was that girl now?) they deserved only suspicion.
She still could not believe that A.P.E.S. had caught Robin. She considered herself a novice in the world of superheroes, and Kon too, really... but the Boy Wonder..? No, he was too resourceful, too clever to be caught by goons.
But maybe there was more to A.P.E.S. then they knew. Fite and Maad seemed almost comically helpless in every encounter, but maybe they were just playing a waiting game. Maybe the two had been working towards something bigger all along.
*I thought we'd settled this.*
*click* Target has entered zone, over. *click*
*click* Roger that, phase one is ready, over. *click*
A fire was engulfing a building below her, and she saw no fire engines anywhere nearby. Cassie only had to wrestle with herself a moment before she changed course. Robin, were he here, would tell her to see to innocents first. It was just the way he was.
She landed on the roof of the old brownstone, coughing against the thick black smoke. Somewhere below, she heard people crying for help. It was so hard to breathe, though, and the heat...
She shook herself and took to the air again. There was no time for second guesses. Lives were in danger and it looked like she was it. It was time to make Artemis and Diana and her Mom proud of her.
Cassie crashed through a window and flew through the smoky, murky hallways of the dilapidated building. Fortunately, it was mostly abandoned. Hero or no, she knew she could not save an apartment complex full of people.
She held her breath and followed her ears to the sounds of distress.
*click* Target is moving into position, over. *click*
*click* Roger that, ready to close the trap. *click*
The smoke was so thick she could not really even see anymore, and she considered giving up again despite herself. She could only stand a few more minutes at the maximum. How could she fail, though? How could she betray the trust and legacy she had been granted?
Cassie crashed through a doorway and looked around. "Hello?"
The pleas for help abruptly stopped. There was a sharp metallic clang behind her. A horrible realization crept over her. It had all been a trap, and she had gone for it like a rat after a piece of cheese.
*click* Box is sealed, shut down internal holograms, deactivate smokers and heaters. Let's let the demolition crew finish up with this building, over. *click*
*click* Roger that. Let's bring in the chopper for pick-up. Beta team to base, mission complete. *click*
Kon felt pleasantly exhausted. He had spent the whole day in training, testing, and pushing his restored abilities to their limits and beyond. Cadmus, the laboratory that had created him and the people who had to claim responsibility for him, were now satisfied he was back in top form.
He stepped into the shower and let the warm water rush over his sinewy frame. For a moment, he simply stood under the shower head, letting the water pour through his hair and down his broad back; across the muscled planes of his shoulder blades and downward... trickling like raindrops across his flanks and meandering down his corded legs.
It was strange to find himself at loose ends for once, but the world seemed to have reached a plateau of quiet for the moment. After all, he reflected as he poured shampoo into his palm, there had to be a lot of chaos in the world for him to get a piece of the action. With heroes like the Flash and Superman at large, watching over humanity, a young hero had to scramble to get to an emergency first.
It was one of the reasons he stayed with Young Justice. As he massaged the lather into his scalp, he pondered with both amusement and exasperation about their mighty leader, Robin. From the very first, back when the grown-ups had been segregated to their own duplicate Earth by a child-cum-God, leaving the teen heroes to fix things, Robin had assumed authority.
It rankled his pride sometimes. He was stronger, faster, and tougher by a considerable measure. He was the heir of Superman, for crying out loud. Yet the quiet, serious youth had never even consulted them. He had just started giving orders.
There were advantages, though, he told himself as he began soaping his chest. If he were leader, he would have to be the mature one, robbing him of the opportunity to hassle Bart whenever possible. The hyperactive, hummingbird-brained poster child for A.D.D. was fun to torment. He liked Impulse, truly, which was why he enjoyed bantering with him.
He rinsed away the lather, rubbing strong hands over his pecs and abs and smiling to himself. It was the smile of a young man who was content with his life for the moment. The future would almost undoubtedly hold more challenges, but he was ready to face them.
Soapy hands stole downward to his genitals and he massaged them tenderly. He could really use a wank, for certain, and he really didn't have anywhere to be...
Kon jumped in startlement, which started a dangerous scrambling dance as his feet lost traction on the slick tiles. Bart helpfully grabbed him at the waist and righted him long enough for him to plant his hands.
"Impulse! Geez! I'm in the freaking shower!"
"Duh! Like I can't see that! Has anyone tried to shoot you with tranq darts today?" Bart asked blithely.
Superboy blinked. "Um, no... Why do you ask?"
Bart's wide-eyed, perpetually-startled look shifted to one of absolute astonishment as his gaze lowered to his friend's groin. "Wow! Talk about your genetic manipulation."
Superboy blushed and managed a glare. "Bart? You were saying something about a tranq dart?"
"How do you get that thing into your spandex?"
Impulse's eyes snapped upward. As a child of virtual reality, he had little knowledge of the intricacies of social interaction. "Um, sorry, I've just never seen a--"
"--that big before."
Kon was blushing furiously, but he could not deny he enjoyed the praise and the awe in his flighty friend's eyes. He ducked his head a little bit. "Okay, you've had your look, now what was this about tranq darts?"
Impulse looked back into his eyes. "Oh, uh, some guys tried to tranq me. Caught me by surprise while I was fighting this killer robot. Hurt like a bitch, too."
"They hit you?"
"I told you they caught me by surprise," Bart told him impatiently. "My metabolism went through the drug in under a minute, though, and then I bolted. I figure it was the same guys who got Robin."
"What?" Kon shut off the water and reached for his towel. "Who got Robin?"
"I dunno. Didn't you get the message from Cassie?"
"What mess-- Never mind, I'll get her on the radio myself."
Impulse rolled his eyes dramatically. "Don't you think I already tried that? There was no response."
Kon wrapped the red and blue towel around his waist, noticing the disappointed expression on Bart's face but having no time for games right now. "Great, so somebody's after the team. Means they'll be coming for me next. Do you know where Suzie is?"
Impulse nodded. "I told her to go back to the base and tell R.T."
Kon stared at him in shock. "That's the first place they'll look."
Bart blinked, clearly not seeing why Kon wasn't getting it. "You don't think she'll be safe with Red Tornado?"
"Well, maybe, but..." He shook his head. "Okay, so you've done a few things right. Good job. What exactly did Cassie's message say?"
Bart looked down. "Um..."
Kon stared at him.
Bart looked upwards. "Well..."
"You don't remember?"
"I didn't listen to it all the way through," Impulse confessed. He gave Kon the look of a puppy who'd been caught chewing on his owner's loafer. "I'm sorry! She was going on and on..."
Kon half-laughed and walked out of the shower-room and into his quarters. Bart trailed behind, dividing his attention between his friend and the labyrinthine complex of Cadmus. He had only barely noticed the place as he'd bypassed security on the way in, but he now saw that it was an impressive complex.
Superboy tossed the towel into a hamper and reached for a jock- strap. This was very bad. Someone who knew them fairly well had set about catching them. Kon remembered Harm all too well; a young villain who had studied their moves and exploited their weaknesses. If anything, such threats were the best argument for their team to exist.
Stepping into the jock-strap, he went over to his communication station and pressed play.
"Kon, this is Wonder Girl. Robin's in some serious heat. He left me a message saying he'd been captured, possibly by terrorists. I don't know where you are, so I'm going to do a little scouting on my own to see what the situation is. I've traced the signal, results are coming in... Oh my god... A.P.E.S. has him! Kon, get to Mount Rushmore ASAP!"
"Damn it," Kon fretted.
"I'll go check it out--"
Impulse froze, looking over at him. Kon slipped into his briefs and started pacing, his eyes hard as he took in the facts. The whole deal was rotten.
"Bart, look, A.P.E.S. is serious business. We've never actually been on opposite sides as of yet, but if we are now, we have to move carefully. They caught Rob first because they knew he would find a way to unhinge their plan. Cassie was next, because she's the next most level-headed. They expect the rest of us to go blundering around, making easy targets."
He hated to admit it, but the tactic was sound. He did have a history of rushing in where angels feared to tread. And Impulse was so aptly named it hurt. They were likely tagged as the easy marks.
Time to prove them wrong.
"They either faked Rob's message to Cassie or let him send it to lure her in. They had to expect she'd try to contact us, which means they're prepared for us to try something. We need to throw them off, give ourselves a little breathing room."
"They couldn't catch me if I was asleep!" Bart protested.
"Don't be so sure, but even if that's true, it'll take at least two of us to fix this mess." He grinned toothily as a plan came to mind. "And I just had a really interesting idea."
Impulse cocked his head to one side. He looked as if much more exposition was going to kill him, so it was best to give him his instructions so he could be off.
Kon went over to a computer bank and entered his code. "Cadmus tries to keep tabs on Match, so they'll have the most updated sightings of him." He scanned through the database and smiled. "Keystone, he's in Keystone. Now all you have to--"
Kon sighed and sent forth a little prayer that Impulse actually did know what to do, instead of just thinking he knew what to do and screwing it all up. The speedster went from thought to action instantly, which meant there was a fifty/fifty chance that he would do the right thing at any given time.
He smiled to himself and started pulling on his fighting togs, amused by the little ferret and conceding to himself that he was worried about him. He would feel better if he were there to guard Bart's back, but that was not possible.
Remembering the shower encounter, he blushed again and tried not think how cute Impulse had seemed at that moment.
It never ceased to amaze Bart (except on all those occasions he was too distracted to notice) that people thought he was stupid. If anything, they were the dumb ones because they had to take forever explaining every little detail of every little facet of every plan. It was all really quite simple.
Like this thing with Superboy now. Obviously the folks at A.P.E.S. were looking for Kon, and they were tracking Impulse. All he had to do was hang around Match long enough for the goon squad to show up and haul the clone off, thinking he was Superboy.
Impulse briefly wondered if Match was also hung like a donkey. But that made him think of the zoo, which reminded him of a science project he had to get done. Why he had to craft a working model of a cow's bladder for credit when he could create a 3-D computer image in minutes confounded him.
This century, he realized, was seriously whacked.
He was in Keystone before Superboy was finished dressing. He scoured the streets, he eavesdropped on conversations, and he terrorized thugs until he came at last to a small, abandoned store. With a simple trick of the Speed Force, he was inside with no one the wiser.
Match was in the back, counting cash and cursing a faceless lackey.
"Hiya, pal! Tag, you're it!" Bart told him, smacking him up the backside of his head.
He was across the street a moment later. Match knocked through the boarded-up window and came flying at him, purple with rage. "You little bastard! You wanna play, huh?"
"Hey, Superboy, how are ya?"
"You think..? Boy, are you in for it!"
He flew at Bart, who evaded quite easily. "Come on, pal, don't be like that!"
Another swing, another instant relocation.
"What the hell do you want, speedfreak?"
Bart alighted on a lamppost. "Just checking to see what you're up to in Flash's city. Metropolis not big enough for you any more?"
Match made a grab for him, but all he crushed was empty air. "Are you totally nuts?"
Impulse laughed and circled him jovially. "Come on, aren't you going to tell me about your tactile telekinesis? I haven't heard about it in days."
"You are so dead, you runt."
Helicopters soared in overhead. Impulse looked up and whistled in approval. "Wow, cool, they look like the attack choppers in Rage Of The Undead Masses."
Match was not paying attention to the helicopters. With hate in his eyes, he lunged at the slender speedster--and missed again. Impulse, now on a second-story ledge, continued looking up at the newcomers. "Superboy, we'd better get out of here!" he shouted.
"Listen, you idiot, I am not--"
A heavy net fell on the super clone, pinning him to the street for a few precious seconds. Gas canisters fell next, releasing white smoke into the air. With military precision, troops slid down ropes to the street below, armored in case of a fight.
"Superboy is down, repeat, the Kid is down!" one of the troopers shouted into a radio.
"But... I'm not..." Match tried to protest and then fell unconscious.
A dart flashed through the smoke, headed straight for an Impulse who was no longer there. His mission accomplished, he was heading back to H.Q. He realized too late that he'd forgotten to set up a rendezvous point, but surely Kon would check in with Red Tornado before proceeding.
Kon watched the capture on the monitor in his room. Apparently, with their mission almost complete and with the necessity of creating such a ruckus, A.P.E.S. had allowed a media helicopter close enough to record the scene.
Kon laughed as he saw his evil twin get carted away. At some point in the respectably near future, he was going to have to pound the Kryptonian genes out of Match, but for now it was enough to make the bastard suffer.
"Enjoying the show?"
Superboy cringed and turned around. Fite and Maad were framed in the doorway, their faces devoid of the warmth their smiles hinted at. They were, he realized, extremely pleased with themselves.
"Yeah, actually," he replied pugnaciously and prepared to fight his way out.
"I'm assuming you thought to evade capture by making us take Match in your place," Maad told him casually. "Unfortunately, our plan was to get the both of you and work out the identities later."
Kon drew himself up, fixing his best glare on the two agents. "By what authority are you here?"
Fite held up a sheaf of documents. "By order of the United States Government. You can examine these, if you'd like, but I'm sure you'll dispute their authenticity anyway."
Superboy snatched the papers out of the man's hand and flipped through them. There was a lot of legalese and nonsense, but what he did recognize was all bad. The offices of several major congressmen had signed off on it, as had the Attorney General, the director of the F.B.I and even the Joint Chiefs. The final stamp of approval, though, could not be falsified. Even these two would not stoop so low.
"President George W. Bush..." Kon whispered.
He did not want to surrender. The team was going to need him on the outside to fix things, figure things out and make their case. But he was the Heir to the Superman Legacy, and Superman respected the office of the U.S. President and its authority.
He could not defy a Federal order, not without utterly shaming himself.
"Can I at least ask what this is all about?"
Maad smiled and was about to reply, but Fite cut him off. "Just understand that neither you or your friends are in danger... or even in trouble, really."
Kon's shoulders sagged. "Okay... okay... But if this is a trick..."
"It's no trick, son."
Kon nodded and stepped forward, feeling cold all over. In the end, this was the right thing to do and he knew it. For, in the end, he should be at his teammates' sides, to face whatever turning Fate had in store for them.